Sharpening is one of those terms that often makes photography purists shiver. After all, if a camera and the lens are doing their job properly, the picture should naturally be sharp and require no further processing, right?
Well, yes and no. Ideally this would always be the case. In a perfect digital world, the picture would be perfectly sharp, perfectly exposed, and the color levels would all be perfectly recorded by your camera.
Sadly, the world of the digital photographer is often times less than perfect.
The sceince of photography is pretty fluid and the tools are not always calibrated exactly to our liking. Sharpening is almost always applied in-camera. A certain amount is dialed in by the manufacturer in-camera and is performed by the filter overtop of the image sensor. However, camera makers need to find a balance. Too much sharpening can cause moiré with certain subject matter. Too little sharpening will cause customers to complain about soft images.
That’s why most digital cameras have a sharpening control, to allow you to manipulate the amount of sharpening that is applied to the image. Usually the amounts that can be applied are harmless levels of sharpening, and won’t do any damage to the image. Still, the process of software sharpening In-Camera does alter the image in a way that cannot be repaired or altered unless you shoot RAW.
Going beyond that is sharpening done in post-processing. Technically this is the same process, but it’s performed a step later, with the difference being that it gives you a little more control over how the image will end up looking.
So should you use sharpening? Yes. The in-camera sharpening is likely set to a level that won’t harm your picture even if you crank it up and max it out. The post-processing sharpening in most software needs to be used with a bit more care, since too much sharpening can drop vital information and render a picture useless, but it’s also a handy tool when used conservatively.
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